Shocking toll of animals swallowing and becoming entangled in COVID masks

Rob Waugh
·Contributor
·2-min read
Birds around the world are becoming entangled in masks (Covidlitter.com)
Birds around the world are becoming entangled in masks. (Covidlitter.com)

Animals including British foxes, seagulls, bats and hedgehogs are becoming entangled in coronavirus masks – and a one was even found inside a penguin’s stomach.

Two Dutch scientists are investigating the problem of animals becoming entangled in masks, with dogs and other pets around the world found having swallowed personal protective equipment (PPE).

In the UK, the RSPCA has had to help more than 900 animals caught in litter, many of which were birds whose feet were caught in disposable masks.

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The scientists hope that people around the world will help the project, by reporting their own sightings of animals eating or entangled in coronavirus waste to a special website.

Biologists Auke-Florian Hiemstra from Naturalis Biodiversity Center and Liselotte Rambonnet from Leiden University began their research after finding a perch from Leiden in the Netherlands entangled in a face mask.

The found animals as diverse as birds, crabs and seagulls were becoming entangled in coronavirus masks and other PPE.

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Hiemstra said: "Vertebrates and invertebrates on land, in freshwater, and in seawater become entangled or trapped in corona waste."

Meanwhile Rambonnet explained: "Animals become weakened due to becoming entangled or starve due to the plastic in their stomach."

The researchers have investigated reports from Brazil to Malaysia and from social media to local newspapers and international news websites.

Some animals use the waste in their nests, according to their study published in Animal Biology. 

Coots in Dutch canals were found to use face masks and gloves as nest material.

Hiemstra said: "The packaging from paper handkerchiefs is found in nests too. As such, we even see the symptoms of COVID-19 in animal structures.”

The researchers ask that people report any sightings of animals struggling with coronavirus waste to www.COVIDlitter.com.

Rambonnet said: "As a result of this, we can learn more about the impact of this category of disposable products on wildlife. We therefore ask people to keep sharing their observations so that we can maintain an up-to-date overview.

The scientists call upon everybody to use reusable face masks.

Sam Wockner, of Greenpeace, wrote: "Discarded face masks are not only adding to litter and pollution across the UK’s parks, rivers and seas – they’re also hurting and killing wildlife."

Over the past year there has been an alarming increase in the amount of seabirds and wildlife found tangled up in carelessly discarded single-use face masks.

Watch: Animal rescue charity's centres 'at capacity' due to lockdown puppies